New Year’s Resolutions – and Clergy galore!

My Friend Oli – who is a determined blogger of some note, among other things- pointed out the other day that it is vital to actually write your resolutions down if you are going to stand any chance of keeping them. I also agree that it’s good to take on something positive, rather than just resolve to give things up. So my resolve is to try to write more posts, which does sort of imply that I read even more books. Or maybe just finish a few more…The problem is that I rather like big books, or at least my non fiction choices are big undertakings. So, more about books in progress? I am reading a biography of Fanny Kemble,the actress, by Rebecca Jenkins, which I picked up cheaply online. An excellent read so far, with lots of 18th Century detail. More about that soon.

Today’s book is a composite work, with short stories and extracts from novels. Two factors make it irresistible to me. It is by P.G. Wodehouse, who is my favourate comedy/relaxing author, and the subject is Clergy. The Clergy Omnibus is one of a series of Omnibus (Omnibusi?) produced by Hutchinson, which includes Aunts and Golf. This collection is probably for Wodehouse devotees who would recognise the origins of the pieces, or those interested in a topic and want to read Wodehouse’s best writing (about Aunts?!?).

This book reveals such delights as the curate who takes elephant strength tonic with great effect, Bishops who revert to schoolboy antics, curates thwarted in love, clumsy clergy and generally bewildered clergymen. It is a funny book, and an interesting way to begin reading some of the full novels and meeting characters including the remarkable Jeeves and a highly moral cat called Webster, whose career is lovingly recorded in one of Mulliner’s tall tales.

I liked this book, because it takes the same line as something like The Vicar of Dibley, in that it pokes fun at the clergy and parishioners rather than religion. The intention is just to entertain, amuse and show that the clergy of the mid twentieth century were, just like in any century, as human in their foibles as anyone else. It is dated, of course, and always unlikely, but that is the genius of Wodehouse. Like the book Pigs Have Wings that I mentioned a few months ago, it is safe reading for those who want to avoid death, destruction and despair in their comfort reading. It may not meet your needs, it may not be to your taste, but this is a genuinely funny book that I really enjoyed.

A fairly local author – and managing in the snow

First, the not so good news.. more snow sticking from yesterday lunchtime onwards. This led to Son One’s interview being cancelled, despite some fancy driving on his part. Local town inaccessible, but got to the Metro (and found a parking space with our name on it). We staggered round the shops (quite busy) and then went to see TRON. Yes, I know it’s a bit of a boys’ film, but IMAX and 3D meant an involving story, with even the floor shaking. Was Michael Sheen it in for the art, or the money!?!

More snow means more time for books, in theory at least. Or is that just buying/receiving/moving more books? Either way, I have just finished Death of a Radical by Rebecca Jenkins (An FR Jarrett Mystery)

Husband heard this lady speak at the Sage in November, and I found out my copy of the first book in this series, The Duke’s Agent. I found that book in a bargain bookshop, thus in hardback, and found it an interesting, if confusing read.

This book is very similiar in that it features Raif Jarrett, the agent of the Duke of Penrith, and is set in 1812. The character of Jarrett is sympathetically and well drawn, pulling no punches in the depiction of his consummated attraction to an actress and an admiration of a local young lady. As in the first novel, he is pulled into a local murder as he suspects foul play in the seemingly natural death of a cloth merchant. Local tensions surrounding the advent of weaving machines and their effect on employment culminate in the murder of a young innocent. I found this the most difficult part of the book. Most murder mystery writers do not linger on the victim’s personality or relationship with the detective so that he or she can be dispassionate about the investigation, as can the reader. In this instance we feel the loss throughout the second part of the book (sorry if this is becoming a bit of a spoiler) and the desperation to solve the situation becomes very personal.

This is not a romanticised version of the period; it is factual and informative without being boring, careful in its characterisation and setting. The thought processes of the main character are reasonable, with no impossible leaps of intuition not shared by the reader.The snow and mud feel real, the emotions of all the characters understandable. There were times when I was getting confused between characters, but that may be because I was inconsistent in my reading rather than Jenkins’ writing  of plot. It feels realistic, with disappointed hero worship and self interested attachments. I enjoyed this book more than the first in this series, if only because there was less pressure to establish character and setting. It is currently my favourite historical period in fiction and this novel contrasts favourably with the costume dramas of Laurens and Heyer. It is a bit like the difference between  Midsummer Murders and something like Lewis; both in fairly modern settings, but with a different emphasis in characterisation and sheer grimness. I would recommend both this book and its predecessor, not just because of their local setting but also because they are just very good reads.